Astana hand the Tour de France leadership over to Jakob Fuglsang after Vincenzo Nibali falls further behind race leader Chris Froome

Vincenzo Nibali sank to the bottom after standing on the top of the Tour de France in 2014. Last year’s winner lost 4-25 minutes to Sky’s Chris Froome on stage 10 and prompted his Astana team to say, “something is broken.”

The Sicilian slipped behind 11 kilometres from the finish on La Pierre-Saint-Martin. His team-mates waited, but he had trouble staying with them. All the others fell behind Froome later, but Nibali’s problems seemed the most obvious.

Nibali, since the Tour rolled out of Utrecht, has lost time almost daily. The first mountain stage yesterday appeared a confirmation that all was not right for the Italian national champion.

“Vincenzo needs a good mechanic because something is broken in his head,” general manager, Alexander Vinokourov said.

“The day was a disaster. We’ve decided to give Jakob [Fuglsang] freedom to ride for the classification, instead.”

When the race left Pau on Wednesday morning, Danish rider Fuglsang sat 13th overall at 8-41 – three places and nearly two minutes down on Nibali.

Even with the change in leadership and 11 days still to race, Vinokourov admitted that Astana were not going to win the race and that Nibali would have to try for a stage win.

There is already speculation too, that Nibali and Astana will not renew their association beyond 2016, with the Italian’s contract coming to an end.

“It seems that someone stuck a speed limiter on Vincenzo,” team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli said.

“It’s logical that we are looking for answers to what’s wrong. We’re a little worried.”

Vincenzo Nibali struggles up the climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin

Vincenzo Nibali struggles up the climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin (Sunada)

Martinelli pointed out that others like Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lost time, but he and others are still within striking distance of the Tour’s podium in Paris on July 26. Nibali, after first last year, may not even manage a top 10.

Making his standing worse with Vinokourov, Nibali failed to win a stage race ahead of the Tour de France.

Some say the problem was that Nibali won the Tour last year. He explained before the race that he had a busy winter with sponsor and team engagements. Adding to his troubles was an Achilles injury and Astana’s troubled winter.

After the Tour win, Astana was hit with five doping positives – two from the WorldTour team. Nibali’s helper Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test weeks after Nibali’s victory on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

“My condition is good, but obviously, I can’t do any more,” Nibali explained.

“I don’t even seem like the brother of Nibali from last year. I don’t even know the problem, it’s useless to stand here and try to find the problem.”

 Check out Vincenzo Nibali’s Tour de France Specialzed S-Works